The Fear of Monkeys - The Best E-Zine on the Web for Politically Conscious WritingThe Patas Monkey - Issue Sixteen
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The Patas Monkey, photo from Christian ArtusoThe Patas Monkey is distributed over semi-arid areas of West Africa, and into East Africa. The ground-dwelling patas avoids dense woodlands and lives in more open savanna and semi-deserts and, perhaps as an evolutionary response to the high adult mortality rates associated with this strongly terrestrial lifestyle, has a remarkably high reproductive rate. The patas monkey feeds on insects, gum, seeds, and tubers, a diet more characteristic of much smaller primates, and they grow to 85 cm in length, excluding the tail, which measures 75 cm. Adult males are considerably larger than adult females and some of them can reach speeds of 55 km/h, making them the fastest runner among the primates. They have several distinct alarm calls that warn members in the group of predators. Different alarm calls are given by different group members and certain alarm calls indicate particular predators. Unlike other primates, patas monkeys rarely take refuge from predators in trees. This is most likely the due to the relatively sparse tree cover in patas monkey habitats. While patas monkeys usually run away from predators, both male and female individuals have been observed to attack predators, such as jackals and wildcats.


Colonel Hiram's Companions


Michael C. Keith

And to a remoter time Bequeath,
like a sunset to the skies
. -- Percy Bysshe Shelley

The Spanish moss hanging from the sprawling Southern Oaks nearly concealed the sweeping veranda of the Colonel Hiram House in St. Landry Parish. The elderly plantation owner cut at it with a sword he had acquired from the dead body of a Union soldier a few years earlier during the Civil War. Exasperated that he was being deprived the view of the eastern expanse of his homestead, he chopped at the ubiquitous growth with a force that belied his age.

"Let me do that for you, sir," offered his servant, Thomas.

"I'm still capable of using this Yankee blade," replied the Colonel, swinging away.

"Yes, sir, I knows that, but it gonna make you ache cause of your rheumatism."

"Guess you're right, Thomas. About got it all, though. Maybe just cut a little more there to your left."

"Yes sir, I do that right now."

"Thank you, Thomas. I do appreciate your concern for my wellbeing."

For ten years, the Colonel had resided without family or loved ones on the Hiram plantation. Alone except for his two former slaves, who chose to remain in his service due to a lack of any other options, the seventy-five-year-old had sunk into a deep melancholy over his isolation. The absence of close company had weighed so heavily on him that he longed for his passing and had even considered bringing it about before it arrived on its own.

He continued to dearly miss his wife, now gone a decade, and to mourn the fact that they never had children. What a comfort they would be now to this old man, he lamented, loading his pipe and lighting it. We just couldn't make any youngins, could we, Belle? Though we never stopped trying, even after we knew we were barren. The Hiram name will die with me . . . and so be it. Sooner the better, too. What other relatives the Colonel had were either dead or had long ago moved away from the Parish to some unknown locations in Louisiana and even further. He had few friends left now because of his intensely close business and personal relationship with his wife. Besides, he'd lost touch with them years before.

Hiram spent most of his time reminiscing about his days in the Confederate Army and as a grower of cotton and sugar cane. After his Belle died, he lost interest in growing crops to sell. His wife had been the driving force behind the operation, managing the books and overseeing the needs of the help. Without her, he quickly found it impossible to continue with the business, so he let his fifteen pickers go and began his solitary existence. It was not long before Hiram regretted the loss of the former activity on the plantation, but he felt it was too late to return to the way things had been. He was just too old and, more to the point, at sea without his beloved partner.

* * *

The Colonel routinely rose just after sunrise already depressed over what he knew would be just another endless and empty day. The only human contact he would have would be with his former slaves, and he knew without their presence he would be doomed.

"Mornin,' sir," greeted Esther, as she entered the kitchen. "You ready for your breakfast? Want some honey on your grits, or just butter, Colonel?"

"Neither, Esther. Just some coffee."

"Now Colonel, you know what the doctor say. You gotta have something in your belly before you have your coffee cause of them ulcers."

"Oh, phooey. Don't like doctors. Bunch of quacks. My belly has been fine. Just got no appetite. Maybe a little later, okay?

"Yes sir, whatever you want," shrugged the middle-age woman.

She seems to be getting older, too, thought Hiram, watching her move to the stove. Not quite the pretty one she used to be.

"You and Thomas sure do look after me, and for that I am heartily grateful."

"It be our job, Colonel, and we fine with that."

"Don't know what I'd do without you. Glad you stayed after I freed you. Hope you don't ever abandon me. Might just as well drown me then."

"No sir, we ain't goin' no place."

"On second thought, Esther, maybe I will have some of your grits. Nobody makes them better."

"Sho' 'nough, Colonel. You be eatin' make me happy."

Your being here makes it bearable, noted Hiram, spooning up a helping of grits.

"You okay in the cabin, Esther? Seems it ain't the best place for comfort, and you and Thomas ain't getting any younger yourselves. Probably have the aches, too"

"Oh, we be fine in that old place. Been there over thirty years, so it be home to my husband and me, sir."

An unusual, if not extreme, notion had occurred to Hiram during one of his earlier darker bouts with loneliness. But he was reluctant to put forward his idea to Thomas and Esther, fearing they'd reject the proposal. Why would they want to move in here with me? I've been their master and now I'm their employer. They are like friends, though. No, that's crazy, considered Hiram. Besides, think how townsfolk would react to Negroes living with me? So what? None of their damn business anyway. I need someone else in this empty house or I'm going round the bend for sure.

Several weeks passed before Hiram gathered the courage to ask if the couple would consider moving in with him in the big house. Just as he suspected, their initial reaction was one of surprise, if not downright shock.

"I've been mighty low these last few years being alone rattling around in this empty house, and you two are as close to me as any other living beings. So it sure would be kind of you to consider moving in here with me. The two rooms in the north wing are empty and sure got to be more comfortable than that old shack of yours. I would consider it a singular act of kindness if you'd do this for me."

His former slaves were speechless for several moments, and then Esther broke the silence.

"Colonel, that be awful good of you to let us move into Hiram House, but we fine where we is."

"Wouldn't look proper if we come to live with you, sir," added Thomas.

"Nonsense. I don't care how it looks to other folks. Besides, I hardly see anybody any more, and for sure nobody ever comes out here," protested Hiram. "Tell you what, think about it for a day or two, okay? I don't make this offer lightly. This empty house is pushing me toward my grave, and having other folks, colored or otherwise, share it with me will darn sure make me feel better."

The next day Thomas informed Hiram that they would accept his offer to move in. After conferring with one another on the subject, both Esther and he felt obliged to go along with the Colonel's request. Deep down they felt they had no other alternative than to go along with their former owner's proposal. Yet as much as they liked him, they could not quite abide the idea of living under the same roof with him.

* * *

The years crept by, and whatever reservations the colonel's former chattel had about living with him eventually vanished. They found him to be a generous and considerate housemate, which did not surprise them. As awkward as it was at first, the three residents of the antebellum manse soon came to regard one another as individuals on equal footing. They took meals together, regaled one another with stories by the fireplace in the winters, and spent the endless summers in happy conversation and long naps on the veranda. It was a time of great contentment for all of them. Hiram was profoundly grateful that the deep loneliness he had suffered had gradually faded with the closer proximity of the kind Negro couple.

It was during one of those long summer days that Hiram took ill. He refused to let his companions fetch the local doctor and consequently became more infirm as days and then weeks passed. Eventually, the Colonel grew so immobile that he required Esther and Thomas to spend most of their time with him in his bedroom. He would ask that they sing their gospel songs to him, and they were pleased to oblige, yet they remained anxious because he would not let them seek medical help.

"Your sweet voices are the best cure. No doctor has that in his bag."

Then one morning when she brought him his coffee at the usual hour, Esther discovered with deep sadness that the Colonel had passed away. Honoring his request, Esther and Thomas buried the Colonel under the flowering canopy of the southern magnolia that his father had planted a half-century earlier. They had tried to convince the dying man to have a proper burial and church service, but he had firmly objected. He told them they were his only relations, and they could say a prayer for his soul's redemption at his gravesite, if they were so inclined. They were.

After laying Hiram to rest, Thomas and Esther prepared to leave the plantation, since they felt they should no longer remain there.

"We gots to tell the sheriff 'bout the Colonel before goin' down to Nawlinz," observed Thomas.

"S'pose, but he didn't say nothin' about doin' that. Could be gettin' us in trouble for burying the Colonel before tellin' nobody."

Esther and Thomas debated the issue while removing the soiled covers from the Colonel's bed. As Esther was depositing the sheets in a clothesbasket, she noticed an envelope with her husband's name on it on the floor next to the nightstand. She picked it up and showed it to him. While she could read a little, Thomas could not decipher writing at all.

"Whad it say?"

Esther closely inspected the document she pulled from the envelope.

"Oh my!" she finally blurted. "This say we be given the plantation. On a deed the Colonel writ his name on."

"What? How that can be?" responded Thomas, gawking in amazement at the official looking paper.

"It is, Thomas. I swear that's what it say. We be the rightful owners of Hiram Plantation now. Lord have mercy!"

Thomas and Esther sat on the veranda for several hours contemplating what to do next. Finally, Esther announced a decision.

"It our place now, so we gonna stay and live here. That be what the Colonel wanted."

"I don't know, Esty. Don't seem right."

"It right as the Bible. We stayin' put, sugar!"

And so they did. Several blissful weeks passed for the couple and then a stranger appeared.

"Come to call on the Colonel. Tell him Jeremy Foster Tyler is here to see him."

"He ain't here, sir," said Thomas.

"Well, where is the old fella? Can't be out chopping cane at his age."

Reluctantly, Esther revealed the truth.

"No sir, he ain't doin that. He be buried over there."

The visitor turned in the direction she pointed.

"You mean he's dead? Well, how the heck . . . I mean, how come nobody knows?"

"It was the way the Colonel wanted it. Told us to bury him under that there magnolia," replied Esther, feeling her body tense up.

"That ain't right. Can't just put a person like the Colonel in the ground without a funeral. Not dignified for a gentleman of his stature."

"We just done what he tell us, sir," said Thomas, clutching his straw hat.

"Even if he's passed like you say, what are you niggas still doing here? Where's his family?" inquired the man, with a bark.

"He got none, mister."

"Then you best be getting' yourselves out of here," growled the stranger.

"No sir, we ain't leavin.' The place be ours now. The Colonel wrote it so."

"What you saying, girl? Are you just as crazy as you look?"

"Here, this be the deed, mister. All legal, and such," said Esther, placing the document before the man's eyes.

"Well, we'll see about that. This don't sound right. You niggas up to something, huh?"

The man tore the document from her hand and trudged back to his horse.

"We'll see what the sheriff says. If you know what's good for you, you'll get your black asses out of here in a hurry."

Thomas and Esther watched as the man galloped out of sight.

"We better do as the man say," muttered Thomas.

"The devil we are! This be our place. The Colonel give it to us legal. They'll see what writ down in the deed. Right is right!" countered Esther, returning to the kitchen.

A full night and day passed and they began to feel somewhat better about things since no one had shown up to challenge their continued existence at the plantation.

"It be okay, honey," said Esther reassuringly, as they turned in for the evening.

"Well, you never can tell what them white people be up to when it come to us black folks."

They were fast asleep when torches were thrown through several of the windows. In seconds, the mansion was consumed in flames. When the sun rose, there remained nothing of the stately structure but a pile of burning embers. Esther and Thomas's bodies were never found, and it was assumed that they either managed to escape somehow or they were burned to ashes.

Decades later, the unclaimed estate was purchased by Noel Culpepper--the patriarch of one of St. Landry Parish's wealthiest families. The plantation remained undisturbed for several years until the new owners built a lavish home just a few feet to the east of where the former Hiram House stood. But on the very day the wealthy Culpeppers were to move in, their new house mysteriously burned to the ground.

"Bet it was Hiram's goddamn nigga ghosts did it," declared Noel Culpepper, recalling the legend that had circulated since Esther and Thomas had vanished nearly a half-century ago.

Out of the smoldering remains of the newly constructed mansion appeared another structure that no living being could see. On its veranda sat three diaphanous figures smiling warmly at one another. After a moment, the old friends turned in the direction of the unobstructed view that lay before them, and their smiles grew.

Michael C. Keith writes stories and teaches college.
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